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Linda Wills at her home in Nova Scotia. She belongs to Grandmothers to Grandmothers, which is about to launch a two-month cross-country caravan. (PAUL DARROW/Paul Darrow for the Globe and Mail)
Linda Wills at her home in Nova Scotia. She belongs to Grandmothers to Grandmothers, which is about to launch a two-month cross-country caravan. (PAUL DARROW/Paul Darrow for the Globe and Mail)

FOCUS

The ladies who lambaste Add to ...

In early 2009, "I occupied the Israeli consulate and I got arrested, myself and seven other Jewish women," she says. And last spring, after Israeli forces conducted a deadly high-seas interception of a ship carrying activists to Gaza, she took part in a 36-hour hunger strike at the same Toronto consulate.

Ms. Ruch is now raising money to launch a similar relief voyage from Canada in defiance of Israel's blockade of Gaza.

"I didn't expect this; I didn't expect to have to suffer problems with my family and things like that," she says of her change of course, which put her at odds with her family's views on Israel. At the same time, she says, "I feel very blessed that I can do this. ... Being able to help wakes me up every morning and it motivates me to go on, it gives me energy, it feeds me."

Turning to activism as a mature woman has been like a return to her idealistic youth, "but with even more passion" and the wisdom of experience, Ms. Ruch says.

"You tend to come out on the other side and you see that you can make a difference, that things can change, that things do change," she says. "I just believe that anything is possible, because I've seen it."

Linda Wills can attest to the invigorating effects of taking on social advocacy as an older woman, though "it's not a great big change in where my heart is," given her past experience with community work.

In her former life as a stay-at-home mother, she amassed three university degrees through part-time study and did not take on paid work until her late 40s, as a teacher. While still working as a high-school principal in 2007, she heard about Grandmothers to Grandmothers from her older sister in B.C. and joined a fledgling Halifax chapter.

"I retired that June and then I jumped in with two feet," Ms. Wills says, adding that many of her activist colleagues are professionals who "bring with them all of the skills and knowledge they had in their workplace."

THE HEART OF THE MATTER

Older women have the time and know-how to get things done, Ms. Wills says. But the work also "appeals to the heart of a grandmother," she says.

"I know, when my grandchildren come over, I have food, I have clothing, I have a warm bed for them to sleep in. The thought of these grandmothers in Africa prevailing against such horrific odds, it just pulls the strings of our hearts and we want to help them."

As well, Ms. Wills hasn't forgotten the self-consciousness she felt as an aging woman in the work force. "We were 29 for many, many years," she says, "and the reason for that was that it just wasn't good to be an older woman in Canadian society. But now I think women are breaking that completely."

At 87, Alma Norman of Ottawa, a member of the Raging Grannies, is a fitting testament to that statement, with her youthful looks, steady voice and dragon-tattooed thigh. While she doesn't get to as many protests as she used to, and took a pass on the recent G20 demonstrations in Toronto, she remains active; her current focus is restorative justice for aboriginal youth.

A rabble-rouser since her university days at McGill in the 1940s, when female activists were thin on the ground, Ms. Norman is gratified at how that has changed.

"I think that people feel freer to say, 'This is who I am, this is the age I am, this is whatever physical disability I have, but this is what I'm going to do,' " she says. "I think women have got a lot more confidence when it comes to speaking out and being who they are and acting the way they want to act."

There is much Ms. Norman would debate with the powers that be, but as far as granny power goes, she is unequivocal: Get used to it.

Anthony Reinhart is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail.

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